Businesses have hit back against Labour’s renewed attack, after the party “named and shamed” some of the biggest firms in the country.
Retailers Amazon, Asda and Sports Direct, taxi app Uber and outsourcer ISS have all come under attack from Jeremy Corbyn, as part of Labour’s campaign promise to deliver “the biggest extension of workers’ rights the UK has ever seen”.
The five firms stand accused of various wrongdoings, including in the case of Amazon imposing such poor conditions that ambulances were called into premises once every two days. In the case of Sports Direct, Labour slams the retailer for practices that led to one woman giving birth in a toilet for fear of losing her job and claimed employees have reported being promised permanent contracts in exchange for sexual favours.
Asda and Uber also come under fire, with the supermarket criticised for changing its contracts so staff must work bank holidays and weekends, while the taxi app was slammed for classifying drivers as self-employed, which Labour suggested was to avoid obligations including minimum wage, sick pay and holiday allowance.
ISS was lambasted for leaving contractors without pay for so long that union GMB had to set up a food bank at the hospital in which they worked.
Corbyn said: “The Conservatives are on the side of bad bosses who have exploited, ripped off and dehumanised workers.
“We’ll call time on insecure and unsafe work that leaves people without the rights and dignity they deserve. We’ll call time on discrimination in the workplace that leaves women vulnerable to harassment and unequal pay. And we’ll call time on the running down of workers’ rights to organise collectively to boost their pay and improve their working conditions.”
But the business community has hit back against Labour’s allegations.
An Amazon spokesman said: “These claims about Amazon are false and, despite sharing the facts with the Labour party on numerous occasions, they’ve chosen to ignore them. The truth is that Amazon already offers industry-leading pay… comprehensive benefits, as well as a safe, modern work environment.”
He added: “Some reports are attempting to sensationalize ambulance calls to Amazon by reporting numbers that include both personal and work related health reasons. In the UK Fulfillment Centres ambulance occurred at a rate of 0.000003 per worked hour, which is dramatically low.“
A spokesperson for Asda said “We entirely reject these claims about our contract and employment status, which are absolutely at odds with both how we operate our business or the regard in which we hold our colleagues.
“Despite the huge pressures facing our sector, we have worked to give a pay increase to almost 120,000 of our retail colleagues in return for a degree of flexibility that is standard in our industry and ensures fairness for all our colleagues. Our contracts include a market leading benefits package – which offers a colleague bonus and sharesave scheme – and we do not use zero hour contracts.”
An Uber spokeswoman also insisted the firm was striving to do its best for its contractors. “Drivers are at the heart of our service and thousands of people come into work at Uber every day focused on how to make their experience better, on and off the road,” said a spokeswoman.
A spokeswoman for ISS said the outsourcer was “a responsible employer committed to doing business in the right way”.
She added: “ISS has always operated with integrity and in line with all appropriate local legal requirements to ensure all its employees are paid fairly and competitively.”
Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley has previously branded the Labour leader “not only a liar but clueless.” This time, a spokesman said simply the tycoon was “not going to engage”.
A CBI spokesperson said: “Where business actions falls beneath what’s expected, naming and shaming can be a worthwhile enforcement tool, yet it becomes devalued when used unfairly as a broad-brush attack on the vast majority of firms which are a force for good, creating jobs and paying taxes vital for public services including schools, roads and hospitals.”
What is in Labour’s work manifesto?
Labour is pledging to:
- End bogus self-employment so that employers cannot evade workers’ rights;
- Ban zero-hour contracts and strengthen the law so that those who work regular hours for more than 12 weeks will have a right to a regular contract, reflecting those hours;
- End poverty pay by immediately introducing a Real Living Wage of £10 an hour for all workers;
- Require breaks during shifts to be paid;
- Set up a Royal Commission to bring health (including mental health) and safety legislation up to date;
- Repeal anti-trade union legislation, including the Conservatives’ undemocratic Trade Union Act 2016;
- Create a Workers Protection Agency with powers to inspect workplaces and bring prosecutions and civil proceedings on workers’ behalf;
- Give everyone full and equal rights from day one at work, whether part-time or full-time, temporary or permanent and ending the qualifying period for basic rights;
- Require employers to create and maintain workplaces free from harassment, including by third parties.
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